Rep. John Shadegg entered the race for House majority leader on Friday with a promise to implement meaningful reforms and give Republicans "a clean break from the scandals of the recent past."
"It’s time to get back to the reform agenda of clean and open government with no backroom deals," said Shadegg, R-Ariz., part of the class of Republicans who were elected in 1994 on the promise to clean up Congress.
"We went to Washington as the party that was going to clean up those kinds of backroom deals and the power brokers helping their cronies. We have not done near enough to clean that up."
Congress has been reeling since lobbyist Jack Abramoff pleaded guilty last week to fraud and conspiracy charges related to influence peddling on Capitol Hill. Republicans have had a particularly tough time with the scandal since it came on the heels of the indictment in Texas of former Majority Leader Tom DeLay in September.
DeLay, R-Texas, who had temporarily given up his post as majority leader, resigned from the position last week.
His ouster was fueled by a petition drive among House Republicans led by Rep. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz. Until Shadegg’s announcement, the fight to replace DeLay was being waged between Reps. Roy Blunt of Missouri and John Boehner of Ohio. Blunt has been acting as majority leader since DeLay stepped down.
Shadegg spent much of the day Friday calling his colleagues, trying to drum up support for his effort. He said that he realistically could not win in the three-way race when the first ballots are cast by House Republicans on Feb. 2. However, if he can survive that, Shadegg believes he can win on a second ballot, which will pit the top two votegetters against each other.
Shadegg said he decided to run because neither Blunt or Boehner is pushing a meaningful reform agenda. That agenda must include radically changing the system of "earmarks," which allow members to add special interest spending to appropriations bills while bypassing the normal budget process, Shadegg said. Abuse of earmarks that benefit special interests is at the core of the scandals that have rocked Congress, Shadegg said.
Shadegg said his chances of becoming majority leader will hinge on whether his fellow Republicans realize how impatient American voters are growing with the ethical scandals in Congress.
Flake said Friday that Shadegg is the ideal candidate to lead the reform movement among House Republicans. He will have a tough time beating his opponents, who are more entrenched with the old guard that benefits most from the existing spoils system in Congress, Flake said.
"He’s known as a reformer," Flake said of Shadegg. "He doesn’t have to have an epiphany on the subject like the others do." Shadegg, whose district includes Paradise Valley, Cave Creek, Carefree and parts of Phoenix, will give up his current job as Republican policy chairman. Blunt retained his job as House majority whip as he serves as majority leader.
Shadegg has weathered the Abramoff scandal mostly unscathed. In December, he sent checks to redistribute donations he deemed could be connected to Abramoff or his clients.
Most of the $6,944 came through "in-kind contributions," the use of facilities, goods or services rather than direct contributions to his campaign. Shadegg got a total of $1,500 in direct donations to his campaigns from former Abramoff associate Kevin Ring, and the political action committee of a law firm where Abramoff used to work.
Shadegg returned $1,388 to a Louisiana Indian Tribe — a former Abramoff client — that let his campaign use its skybox at MCI Center in Washington D.C. for a fundraiser in 1999. To make up for the rest of the money, Shadegg’s campaign donated $1,500 to a Valley nonprofit group that helps American Indians, and $4,055 to the National Coalition Against Legalized Gambling, which opposes the expansion of gaming.
Shadegg’s candidacy drew immediate praise from circles that have long pushed spending reform in Congress.
"There is no member of the House of Representatives more committed to the idea of limited government and economic freedom than John Shadegg," said Pat Toomey, president of the free market advocacy group Club for Growth, in a written statement.
The conservative National Review also praised Shadegg.
"At a time of an ethical crisis, when the Republican majority often seems to have lost direction, John Shadegg is the right man to clean house," National Review wrote in its online edition.